Heating and cooling costs make up more than half of the energy consumed in your home. By repairing your insulation, you can save more than 20 percent on your utilities year round. This resource from Energy Star is a great guide to insulating your home.
Note: We suggest hiring a contractor if you don't feel comfortable working with insulation, find wet or damp insulation, mold or find poor attic ventilation.
Learn about your insulation. The most common forms of insulation today are cellulose, fiberglass and spray foam. This guide from the Department of Energy will help you determine what type of insulation you have in your home. Different parts of your house may use different kinds of insulation, so as you inspect and repair your insulation, pay attention to the type that's being used in that area. Be sure to use the same type for any repairs and replacements.
Check your attic door. If your attic hatch is located above a room that will be heated this winter, make sure the door is just as heavily insulated as the rest of the attic. Think of your attic door as if it was an exterior door. Does it close tightly? Can you feel a draft coming through? If either of these issues seems like a problem, consider adding weather stripping around the frame of the door to achieve a tighter seal.
Check your attic’s air ventilation. Locate your attic vents and make sure they are not blocked by insulation. These will likely be located along the outer perimeter of your attic floor. If your home is relatively new, you likely have a roof ridge vent in the center of your roof. Make sure none of these vents are blocked with debris or insulation so that air can easily flow through them. In the winter, improper ventilation in your attic can cause ice dams on the roof (which can lead to leaks, roof damage and damp insulation). Also inspect the ceiling for water stains or marks, which indicate roof leaks or poor ventilation. If you see any mold or mildew in your attic, that is a sign of a more serious ventilation problem and you should contact a professional to resolve the issue.
Look for air leaks in your attic. You don't need to track down every small leak in your attic. You just need to look for evidence of big leaks that are draining a large amount of warm air out of your house. The most common places for large air leaks are your dropped soffits, behind and under attic kneewalls and the place where your walls meet the attic floor. Look for dirty insulation, which is a tell-tale sign of an air leak.
Check your insulation levels. Look around your attic. If the insulation is either level with or below your floor joists, it's low enough to be costing you extra money. If you can't see your floor joists, you should be fine.
Repair air leaks and add extra insulation (optional). If you're comfortable working with things like expanding foam or caulk sealant, you can plug air leaks and add extra insulation according to these Energy Star instructions. Tip: This is a messy and involved task, so it might be easier to hire a contractor for this job. This will generally cost $1.50-$3.50 per square foot, but plugging serious leaks will save you a lot of money in the long run!
Inspect your basement insulation. If you have an unfinished basement or crawl space, inspect this area for gaps and air leaks, too. The most common areas for air leaks are along the top of the basement wall where cement comes in contact with the wood frame and the basement’s rim joists. These are the pieces of wood along your wall in between the supporting floor joist boards. Add insulation to this area of your home to seal any air leaks.